Bain Offers Insights on Treating America’s Healthcare Worker Burnout

The past few years have been absolutely devastating to the U.S. healthcare industry’s workers. They’ve had to endure reduced staffing, lower pay, longer hours, and the turmoil of a global pandemic, in addition to often combative and abusive patients and their families. As a result, healthcare workers have quit their jobs in droves, with much of the remaining workforce considering switching employers – or even leaving the industry entirely. New research from Bain & Company reveals the depth of burnout within the industry, and offers solutions to health systems operators who wish to retain their people.

The results of the survey are stark: 63% of clinicians report feeling worn out by the end of the workday, 51% say they don’t have the time and energy for family and friends during their off hours, and 38% state they feel exhausted in the morning at the thought of another day at work. Around half of physicians, advanced practice providers, and nurses say their mental health has declined since the start of the pandemic.

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The message is clear: if healthcare providers wish to avoid the disruption of high employee turnover and skyrocketing operating costs due to traveling staff, they will need to take immediate action to improve working conditions, both in the near term and in the long run. Clinicians are in desperate need of better compensation, greater support, a more manageable workload, flexible work arrangements, and job responsibilities that reduce administrative burden. Those five criteria were cited as most important for clinicians across all roles, with 40% of respondents dissatisfied with their employers across most dimensions.

Work culture and burnout will need to be addressed in the near term, with clinician wellbeing becoming a major focus of employers. Organizations such as Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences, Hartford HealthCare, and the University of Michigan Medical School have already begun to move in this direction, establishing a chief wellness officer (CWO) whose focus is to monitor and implement additional support around workers’ well-being.

Bain suggests that investment in technology and people to reduce administrative burdens will be an important long-term solution as well, helping clinical workers stay focused on the health outcomes of their patients instead of paperwork. Even longer-term, providers will need to re-think the clinical operating model to make best use of their talent, engage employees in decision making, solicit – and listen and respond to – employee feedback, and overall develop a more supportive work culture.

Changing the way healthcare workers are treated will require significant work and investment, but it is clear that the status quo is unsustainable. If employers wish to slow the exodus of their workforces, they will have to do better than offering free pizza and hanging up “Heroes Work Here” signs.